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African Refugees Caught in Modern-day Slave Trade in Libya

A number of African refugees as well as migrants pass through Libya to reach Europe. Reports have revealed that hundreds of them, particularly women and children, are being bought and sold in the modern-day slave markets. The UN-backed government of Libya stated that it is investigating these allegations.

According to the reports, tens of thousands of vulnerable people from Africa risk everything to get to the Libyan coast, to cross the Mediterranean and ultimately reach Europe. However, these refugees who take the deadliest route of the world are preyed on, abused and forced into labor and prostitution in Libya, which is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea.

As per the statistics, more than 150,000 people have made the crossing in the past three years, annually. However, there is no proper registration process for the tens of thousands of refugees who arrive in Libya.

Reports show that in some parts of Libya the business of detention centres is unsupervised and stories of torture, rape and forced labour have emerged. People are allegedly sold off like goods in an open market when the centres get too crowded. Besides, 89 million people were estimated to have been forced into some form of modern slavery over the past 5 years.

Survivors told the UN’s migration agency that they use smartphones to connect with people smugglers to get them to Libya’s coast. Then, they were sold, being held for ransom, and used as forced labour or for sexual exploitation.

In his statement to Counting the Cost, Leonard Doyle from the International Organization for Migration said, “As shocking as it seems, it’s indeed true. The reason it [slave trade] can happen is because there is really no rule of law across much of Libya. Libya is a country as big as France, with a lot of space there. Migrants are coming there … they see the promise of a new life when they go to their Facebook feed and they think something wonderful is waiting for them in Europe, because a smuggler has abused the system and has sold them that lie.”

He explains that when they arrive in Libya, “they get off the bus and they are quickly put into a kind of murder machine, an extortion machine. They are robbed of their possessions, their families are called. They are forced, they are tortured, they give them money. And then they are sold. Unbelievable, but they are sold in open, public auctions: $400 for a labouring man, maybe a bit more for a woman who can be put in the sex trade. And this is what’s happening across the country.”

The International Organization for Migration says trade in humans has become so normalised that people are being bought and sold in public for as little as $400.

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